Home LIFESTYLE Style News White Flight: Trump’s West Wing Braces for a Brain Drain

White Flight: Trump’s West Wing Braces for a Brain Drain

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As staff nervously eye the exits, the White House has reportedly offered an ultimatum: either leave before the end of January or stay put until the November midterm elections, CNN reports. The deadline is intended to balance an ongoing reshuffle with the threat of a larger exodus—a chaotic combination made worse by the Trump administration’s struggle to find qualified candidates. It’s also a charge the White House vigorously denies. “There has been no directive on staff departures and any suggestion otherwise is ridiculous fake news,” said Sarah Huckabee Sanders.

Despite these protestations, there are inarguably some gaping holes in Donald Trump’s team. The role of chief strategist, once occupied by Steve Bannon, is conspicuously vacant. As is the senior aide position held by Keith Schiller, the former security chief who moved to the White House as an aide-de-camp and left in September. The embattled Office of Political Affairs remains in a state of transition: While current head Bill Stepien is set to remain in place (for how long is unclear), he will now be overseen by Johnny DeStafano, pulling triple duty at the Office of Presidential Personnel and the Office of Public Liaison and the Office of Intergovernmental Affairs. Although the promotion speaks to his competence, it also suggests that Chief of Staff John Kelly, who has vowed to fill the ranks by the end of January, is struggling to find anyone else to take on the roles.

There are multiple reasons for the lack of enthusiastic and suitably qualified candidates. The first is ideological. The extremity of Trump’s stances have alienated many Republicans, who fear working in the White House might tarnish the trajectory of their careers. Trump, in turn, is not keen to hire anyone who might prove even somewhat disloyal. “There are still a lot of people who have said they are unwilling to work in the White House and there are a lot of people the White House are unwilling to have come in,” Republican operative Doug Heye told CNN.

The more obvious problem is turnover: Dina Powell and Jeremy Katz are exeunt stage left, with Gary Cohn expected soon thereafter. While Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump apparently plan to remain in Washington at least through the 2018 school year, few believe they will stay long. More notable casualties include Sean Spicer, infamous purveyor of “alternative facts”; Michael Flynn, who was ostensibly fired for lying to Vice President Mike Pence and recently pleaded guilty to lying to the F.B.I.; Sebastien Gorka, whose association with extremist politics in Hungary have not diminished his star at Fox News; and, of course, the silver-tongued Anthony Scaramucci.

The Brookings Institution concludes that the Trump administration has seen more exits than any first year president in the last four decades, with 34 percent of Trump’s senior staff departing in the past year alone.

The larger issue isn’t necessarily Trump’s tendency to shed staff, but his difficulty attracting new talent. It is no secret that nearly everyone who has worked for Trump in a public-facing role has, at some point, been subject to humiliation, either in their interactions with the press—à la Spicer—or at the hands of their boss, as Attorney General Jeff Sessions can affirm. And then there is the specter of Robert Mueller’s Russia probe, which has already led to four indictments, and is now circling closer to Trump. As one person familiar with the White House’s staffing challenges told CNN, candidates that might otherwise fill some West Wing vacancies don’t see working for Trump as a prestigious career move. They see it as a potential “ticket to the grand jury.”

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